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Kyoto background

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© Lonely Planet Publications

BACKG RO U N D
HISTORY
EARLY HISTORY

BACKGROUND HISTORY

Although the origins of the Japanese race remain unclear, anthropologists believe humans first
arrived on the islands as early as 100,000 years ago via the land bridges that once connected
Japan to Siberia and Korea, and by sea from the islands of the South Pacific. The first recorded
evidence of civilisation in Japan is jōmon (pottery fragments with cord marks) produced around
10,000 BC. During the Jōmon period (10,000–300 BC), people lived a primitive existence as
independent fishers, hunters and food gatherers.
This stone age period was gradually superseded by the Yayoi era, dating roughly from 300
BC to AD 300. The Yayoi people are considered to have had a strong connection with Korea.
Their most important developments were the wet cultivation of rice and the use of bronze and
iron implements, and they also introduced new practices such as weaving and shamanism. The
Yayoi period witnessed the progressive development of communities represented in more than
100 independent family clusters dotting the archipelago.
As more and more of these settlements banded together to defend their land, regional groups
became larger and by AD 300 the Yamato kingdom had emerged in the region of present-day
Nara. Forces were loosely united around the imperial clan of the Yamato court, whose leaders
claimed descent from the sun goddess, Amaterasu, and who introduced the title of tennō (emperor). The Yamato kingdom established Japan’s first fixed capital in Nara, eventually unifying
the regional groups into a single state. By the end of the 4th century, official relations with the
Korean peninsula were established and Japan steadily began to introduce arts and industries
such as shipbuilding, leather-tanning, weaving and metalwork.
During the Yamato period a highly aristocratic society with militaristic rulers developed. Its
cavalry wore armour, carried swords and used advanced military techniques similar to those of
northeast Asia. The Yamato government also sent envoys directly to the Chinese court, where
they were exposed to philosophy and social structure.
The Yamato period is also referred to as the Kofun period by archaeologists, owing to
the discovery of thousands of kofun (ancient burial mounds), mainly in western Japan.
These massive tombs contained various artefacts including tools, weapons and haniwa
(clay figurines of people and animals), which had been ceremonially buried wi...
BACKGROUND
HISTORY
EARLY HISTORY
Although the origins of the Japanese race remain unclear, anthropologists believe humans first
arrived on the islands as early as 100,000 years ago via the land bridges that once connected
Japan to Siberia and Korea, and by sea from the islands of the South Pacific. The first recorded
evidence of civilisation in Japan is jōmon (pottery fragments with cord marks) produced around
10,000 BC. During the Jōmon period (10,000–300 BC), people lived a primitive existence as
independent fishers, hunters and food gatherers.
This stone age period was gradually superseded by the Yayoi era, dating roughly from 300
BC to AD 300. The Yayoi people are considered to have had a strong connection with Korea.
Their most important developments were the wet cultivation of rice and the use of bronze and
iron implements, and they also introduced new practices such as weaving and shamanism. The
Yayoi period witnessed the progressive development of communities represented in more than
100 independent family clusters dotting the archipelago.
As more and more of these settlements banded together to defend their land, regional groups
became larger and by AD 300 the Yamato kingdom had emerged in the region of present-day
Nara. Forces were loosely united around the imperial clan of the Yamato court, whose leaders
claimed descent from the sun goddess, Amaterasu, and who introduced the title of tennō (em-
peror). The Yamato kingdom established Japan’s first fixed capital in Nara, eventually unifying
the regional groups into a single state. By the end of the 4th century, official relations with the
Korean peninsula were established and Japan steadily began to introduce arts and industries
such as shipbuilding, leather-tanning, weaving and metalwork.
During the Yamato period a highly aristocratic society with militaristic rulers developed. Its
cavalry wore armour, carried swords and used advanced military techniques similar to those of
northeast Asia. The Yamato government also sent envoys directly to the Chinese court, where
they were exposed to philosophy and social structure.
The Yamato period is also referred to as the Kofun period by archaeologists, owing to
the discovery of thousands of kofun (ancient burial mounds), mainly in western Japan.
These massive tombs contained various artefacts including tools, weapons and haniwa
(clay figurines of people and animals), which had been ceremonially buried with nobles.
With the arrival of Buddhism, this labour-intensive custom was abandoned in favour of
cremation.
BUDDHISM & CHINESE INFLUENCE
When Buddhism drifted onto the shores of Japan, Kyoto was barely more than a vast, fertile valley.
First introduced from China in 538 via the Korean kingdom of Paekche, Buddhism was pivotal
in the evolution of the Japanese nation. It eventually brought with it a flood of culture – through
literature, the arts and architecture, and kanji, a distinctive system of writing in Chinese characters.
BACKGROUND HISTORY
The vast, fertile plain of the Kyoto basin,
then known as Yamashiro-no-kuni, is first
settled by the Hata clan from Korea. An-
other clan, the Kamo, also settles the area.
Early 7th century 622 784
Kōryū-ji is established in northwest Kyoto
to house a statue given to the Hata clan by
Prince Shōtoku. The temple becomes the
tutelary temple of the clan.
Emperor Kammu moves the capital from
Nara to Nagaoka (a suburb of Kyoto) to
avoid the powerful Buddhist clergy who
had previously meddled in the imperial
court.
© Lonely Planet Publications
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